Monthly Archives: April 2014

Homeschooling (and proof we are still alive)

See - they are learning stuff!
See – they are learning stuff!

We have degenerated into the basics for homeschooling.  I started the journey with these grand ideas that we would do a few hours a day, four days a week.  We would cover everything in an organized fashion.  David would take math and science and I would take the rest.   That was the fantasy.  Here is the reality –

Math: Singapore Math.  David will get the kids through the year on math.  We are lucky that they are already ahead in math and they love it.  Carter who is in 4th grade will finish through 4B and Bennett in 2nd will finish 3B.  One thing I always tell parents is that it is a huge advantage in our elementary educational system to have math facts down cold.  It is so much easier to learn new math in elementary school when you aren’t spending any brain power with math facts.  Learning the concept of reducing fractions or long division is much easier if you aren’t worried about what 3 x 5 is or that 16 has a couple of factors including 2 and 4.   It lets you listen to the concepts.  It is one thing I have no problem with drill and kill on.  Kids that have their math facts down cold do better in elementary school.  We use an app called Math Drills.  I’d give us an A on teaching math.  As David says, he doesn’t make it fun at all, but they are learning appropriate material at an acceptable rate.  (Just in case my views aren’t obvious, I don’t think having your math facts memorized really well makes you a better mathematician, it’s a parlor trick that makes elementary school math easier…)
Science: Just science museums.  I’m actually not that upset about that.  They didn’t get much science in school anyway.  I give us a C because that is average and I don’t think they are learning LESS science than if they were in school.
Writing: Unschooling.  Neither of my kids enjoyed writing.  One dreaded it, the other does whatever the minimum is.  Neither has ever volunteered to write a story for fun.  Neither has ever been praised for their outstanding writing abilities.  My wisest friend in education advised me to ‘unschool’ for writing instruction.  Let them read massive amounts of reasonably written books and use Ralph Fletcher “A Writer’s Notebook” as a read aloud and require / encourage them to keep a writer’s notebook of their own.  This book basically talks about the process of writers use to write.  Here’s the fantasy of what it will look like:  They will just pick up their Writer’s Notebook at odd times and start scribbling in it all their impressions of this great trip or their thoughts on the soaring eagle.  Yeah, that hasn’t happened yet.  They are required to spend 30 minutes a day on writing.  They can write, edit, conference with me, stare into their notebooks, whatever they want.   What this has accomplished is that they don’t appear to dread writing anymore.  They can write various things without hesitation.  (the Writer’s Notebook has different chapters for different types of writing and they have had to try each type.)   I give us a B- on writing.
Writing (minor): the kids HAVE to write in their journal everyday. No exceptions.  Journal is different than Writer’s Notebook.   Journal is the facts, Writer’s Notebook is impressions, stories, snatches of conversation they thought were interesting…   Writing in the journal is no longer a whine fest, they just do it and relatively quietly.  I’m not sure this has improved their writing style or ability, but they whip these out in 10 minutes and they are reasonable summaries of our days.
Grammar: Spectrum 3rd and 5th grade workbooks.  The school they were going to gave us some workbook type grammar books that they hadn’t finished.  We do a little bit every 2 weeks.  Since 3rd and 5th grades follow the exact same concepts just at slightly different levels, I just combine them and teach them together.  I give us a C on this – mostly because I’m not very passionate about it.
Spelling: Words Their Way.  They get a weekly list, but geared around a spelling concept, not random words.  One thing about this is that the test at the end of the week is on the concept, not the words they learned.   I test them individually so that they are on their own level. I give us a B+ on spelling.
Social Studies: The trip.  We recently started a Scholastic Easy Simulation on the Civil War – just to go up to 10,000 feet again and make sure they see the forest instead of all the trees (Gettysburg, Ft. Sumter).  It’s not a bad academic program, and it will be fun and educational, so what the heck.  I still think we get an A+ on this because, hello, they are seeing amazing stuff.   They have experienced the steady winds at Kitty Hawk, they have seen the walls of the Alamo, and been on the type of boats from D-Day.
Reading:  They read a lot.  Carter averages 90 minutes a day, Bennett 30-45 minutes. I occasionally make them read a relevant book, but mostly they chose books themselves with suggestions from me.  The most awesome required reading has been “Two Miserable Presidents” about The Civil War.   They both read exclusively on their Kindles.  We get 6 books each from our home library at a time and then another 10 available to the family from the Portland library.    This would be an entirely different trip if we didn’t have Kindles and e-books from the public libraries.   Carter’s reading list has been improved because, for the most part, the books available from the library are pretty good.  He also knows he only gets 6 books at a time so that keeps him away from those books he can read in 20 minutes because he will run out too quickly.  Whenever we go into a public library, both boys consume Garfield, Pokémon, and any other comic books they can find.   I would give us an A on reading, but mostly they are consuming and don’t analyze, dissect, or reflect on any reading, so I can only give us a B.
We also have recently started a book called The Reader’s Handbook which is going to make them more analytic readers.  I’ll let you know how that goes.
That’s it.  We took 2 weeks off for Disney as Spring Break.  We took off the entire time in DC off.  Any day we are in a National Park and / or doing a Jr. Ranger Book, I count that as a full day.  They still have to do journals and read on all those days, but nothing else.   We will continue on with our schedule through August 1st.  We tend to homeschool a couple of days a week and often on Saturday and Sunday when ’normal’ people are out seeing sights.
Will we have permanently damaged our kids by taking this semester off?  Nah, probably not.  We haven’t been an A+ on homeschooling, but hopefully this will be good enough.
We are headed to Gettysburg today and maybe a Utz Potato Chip Factory Tour.